Extreme training at 30,000 feet

thisoneCaroline Brozovich’s fingers and lips have turned blue-grey, her movements are sluggish, and her eyes half-shut, as though she’s peering through a fog. The oxygen around her is now as thin as the air at 30,000 feet, the cruising altitude for jet aircraft. If Brozovich were piloting an airliner, she and her passengers would be minutes away from unconsciousness – and death.

But Brozovich is a flight student at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and her instructor has just handed her an oxygen mask.

They are inside the university’s new High Altitude Laboratory, a high-tech facility for teaching aspiring pilots how to recognize the symptoms of oxygen loss at high altitudes. According to university officials, Embry-Riddle is the first university in the United States to acquire the lab for high-altitude hypoxia awareness training. The lab can accommodate 8-10 people per training session and will include a flight training device at a later date.

Custom-designed by Colorado Altitude Training, the laboratory was built for use in Embry-Riddle’s Flight Physiology course, to teach the causes and symptoms of hypoxia, a shortage of oxygen in the brain and blood. An insidious threat to pilots, altitude-induced hypoxia is often caused by loss of cabin pressurization.

“Hypoxia affects people differently, and the rate of onset varies for each person,” says Glenn Harmon, an aerospace physiologist and assistant professor of aeronautical science at Embry-Riddle. “Symptoms can include tunnel vision, nausea, euphoria, dizziness, tingling, fatigue, and loss of coordination. This High Altitude Laboratory is an ideal place for pilots to learn to recognize their own symptoms.”

Embry-Riddle chose to adopt the normobaric technology, which reduces oxygen content and is safer and less costly, rather than the military’s hypobaric chamber technology, which reduces air pressure.

As air machines extract oxygen from the enclosure creating a hypoxic environment inside, students perform cognitive, motor, and flight tasks under the supervision of a qualified instructor. As soon as they experience the warning signs of hypoxia, students don oxygen masks like those required in airline cockpits before their decision making becomes clouded or they become incapacitated.

The university expects to train up to 500 flight students per year in the High Altitude Laboratory.

Plans are being made to offer hypoxia awareness training in the lab to flight schools and corporate aviation operators. This would allow more pilots to benefit from the personal experience and knowledge as well as possible insurance advantages. A typical training package might consist of classroom instruction on spatial disorientation and high altitude physiology, followed by sessions in the university’s High Altitude Lab and GAT Spatial Disorientation Trainer.

For more information: EmbryRiddle.edu.


  1. Skyler says

    While ERAU may be the first to get the normobaric chamber type for high altitude training, it is certainly not even close to the first to adopt this type of training. I’m shure that the students at ERAU are happy to finally be catching up to the rest of the industry with high altitude training. It is absurd to think that this type of training is safer than the hypobaric chamber technology used by the military and training facilities such as the Delta Connection Academy. The hypobaric chamber is a controled environment, in which students learn the real symptoms of becoming hypoxic. Letting your students become so hypoxic that they are showing signs of cyanosis and approaching unconsciousness is what is truly dangerous as stated in the ERAU article from their own students.
    In fact, the Delta Connection Academy has live ATC while students fly simulators from lower altitudes and slowly reach no higher than 22,000-23,000. You only need a few minute signs of hypoxia to learn from the experience and stay safe. Also, the Delta Connection Academy is the first FITS(flight industry training standards) certified for high altitude training.

  2. Cass Howell says

    Let me clarify the issue a bit as to “first” –the ERAU High Altitude Lab is the first NORMOBARIC device to be put into use in a university setting for the purpose of demonstrating hypoxia to pilots. The “chamber” is NOT a HYPOBARIC chamber–pressure on the inside is the same as pressure on the outside. The difference is that the interior air has been scrubbed of oxygen molecules so that the simulated altitude is up to 30,000 feet, thus inducing the hypoxic experience. There are numerous advantages to this approach, chief of which is the complete absence of ear and sinus blocks, embolisms, aviator’s decompression sickness and other evolved gas problems. Also an advantage: cost–the device is economical enough that Embry-Riddle students get the training without even having to pay a lab fee.

  3. Chamberflyer says

    It looks like EAU is the first to offer this type of hypoxia training at normobaric (sealevel) altitude. There are other acedemic locations that offer true altitude hypoxia training UND, ASU and Oklahoma State University (since 1995). True altitude hypoxia allows the student to do rapid decompressions and night vision demonstrations. The time of useful consciouness (TUC) at 30K’ is 1-2 minutes on average, this altitude does not allow very much time for the student to feel, recognize and then don the mask before they would exceed TUC, which should be the learning point of this lab.

  4. Annie says

    “Gents” and “Ladies”,

    This article is very misleading, it leads people to believe that EAU is the first school to offer this type of training which is blatantly false. Though the type of chamber differs, the end result of the training is still the same. This touches a nerve with the long-standing rivalry of UND vs. EAU. Maybe the “university officials” gave Ms. Wood a free ride in the chamber and had her write this article as one tasks.Good day.

  5. Brian says

    This is definitely not the first one. It looks like UND has one, but Arizona State University has an altitude chamber at the Polytechnic campus for the flight students there. An altitude chamber can also do rapid decompression training as well.

  6. Mike says


    Read the article again and visit the Colorado Altitude Training website. This new “laboratory” is the first of its kind and not your standard hypobaric or “altitude” chamber used by UND, CAMI, the military, and other organizations. The best benefit for students and staff is they are not exposed to the risk of decompression sickenss (DCS). I’m sure the acquisition and operational costs as compared to the standard chamber are other considerations as well.

  7. Dave says

    OK, so they’re not the FIRST, and the article was in error about that.

    The MAIN POINT, however, is that they DO have this training, and it is a valuable opportunity for pilots to experience hypoxia first-hand in a safe, training environment.

  8. Brad says

    Embry Riddle is a late comer to this type of training. The University of North Dakota has operated a hypobaric chamber for years.

  9. Adam Clapp says

    I just wanted to correct this article in saying that “Embry-Riddle is the first university in the United States to acquire the lab for high-altitude hypoxia awareness training.” In fact the University of North Dakota has a high altitude chamber that has long since been incorporated into the curriculum of our flight physiology class.

    Adam Clapp

  10. Daniel Unertl says

    The claim that Embry Riddle is the first college to have a high altitude chamber and course for flight students is simply FALSE. the University of North Dakota – Grand Forks has had a high altitude chamber and course for years. It is called Flight Physiology AVIT 309. Your reporter and magazine should check the facts before blindly publishing an advertisement disguised as a news article.

    Here’s the link so you can verify. How about an article on UND sometime.


  11. Mike says

    “Embry-Riddle is the first university in the United States to acquire the lab for high-altitude hypoxia awareness training.” This is not the first altitude chamber to be used for university student flight training. The University of North Dakota School of Aerospace Sciences has been using an altitude chamber to train students and corporate flight departments for quite a few years already. The course is known as Flight Physiology and is mandatory for flight students. This includes classroom training, lab time in the altitude chamber, and spatial disorientation training in the GAT trainer.

  12. bob says

    I believe this story is not accurate. University of North Dakota has had a high altitude chamber for quite a few years already. Embery Riddle is not the first.

  13. Mike says

    I don’t believe ERU is the first… Arizona State University at the East campus, has had a High Altitude Chamber since the campus was opened several years ago.

  14. Kevin S says

    As I recall, UND has had a chamber for quite a while and has given “rides” to corporate and other GA pilots.

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